If you’re of a certain age, chances are you remember the Ebony Fashion Fair shows of the late 20th century, extravaganzas replete with an all-Black cast of models wearing high-end designs from around the world.
Even more familiar might be the cosmetics line of the same name, which was often ubiquitous in the beauty arsenals of so many of our mothers and grandmothers, its products encased in iconic pink marbled packaging.
Both were the brainchild of the late Eunice Johnson, the matriarch of the Johnson Publishing empire and a fashion and beauty aficionado who believed Black beauty deserved a platform as large as any other. Launching Fashion Fair cosmetics in 1973, the brand quickly cornered the market on makeup for women of color when other brands couldn’t be bothered to remotely consider darker-skinned clientele.
So, it was something of a tragedy that by the time Fenty Beauty disrupted the long complacent beauty industry with 40 shades of foundation, Fashion Fair was on its way out, having faced decline in a market that had finally begun to diversify.
Enter two former Ebony execs, Desiree Rogers and Cheryl Mayberry McKissack, with a vision to preserve the treasured legacy brand while bringing it to a new generation of beauty lovers. Buying the bankrupt company at auction, they began to do exactly that with the help of beauty retail powerhouse Sephora—and a beloved brand was reborn.
Rogers and McKissack’s revival of Fashion Fair is chronicled in the new documentary The Beauty of Blackness, co-produced by Sephora, Vox Media, Epic, and Digitas, and now streaming on HBO Max.
The beauty entrepreneurs—who also acquired and revitalized Black Opal—also sat down with theGrio to discuss their journey with the iconic Black beauty brand, and what the future might hold.
Watch our video above to hear how Rogers and McKissack rebuilt the brand, and hear more at a virtual town hall on The Beauty of Blackness on Monday, April 4, 6-7 pm ET. The online event is open to the public, and questions can be asked in advance; RSVP at: bit.ly/BeautyOfBlackness.
Maiysha Kai is Lifestyle Editor of theGrio, covering all things Black and beautiful. Her work is informed by two decades’ experience in fashion and entertainment, a love of great books and aesthetics, and the indomitable brilliance of Black culture. She is also a Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter and editor of the YA anthology Body (Words of Change series).
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